New York (CNN) — Look, I don’t know a lot about golf. I play nine holes about once a year, and I talk a big game — ask me about the one time I sank an eagle from the fairway, I’ll never shut up about it — but watching others do it on TV never really held my interest, apart from being an afternoon sleep aid.
But money — that’s something I make a living chronicling. And money just took over the world of men’s pro golf.
ICYMI: The PGA Tour agreed to join forces with its rival, LIV Golf, to create a giant as-yet-unnamed new company that, if the merger is allowed to go through, will absolutely dominate the sport.
A bit of background for the uninitiated:
- Men’s pro golf in North America has been dominated by the PGA Tour for decades. The tour is the nonprofit league that organizes tournaments just about every weekend.
- Last year, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund spent an estimated $2 billion to form a rival league, LIV Golf, to challenge PGA’s dominance.
- They hated each other and immediately started suing one another.
- LIV attracted many of the sport’s top players away from the PGA Tour and Europe’s DP World Tour by offering more prize money.
- A long legal battle followed, and LIV golfers were banned from established tours.
- “LIV” comes from the Roman numeral for 54, aka the total number of holes played in its three-round tournaments. It is pronounced like “live.” As in, “Please don’t kill me, I want to live.”
Oh, yeah — that brings me to the whole “why you should care” bit, and why many pro golfers and fans are apoplectic over the tie-up.
Saudi Arabia is a brutal theocracy helmed by a crown prince who was directly involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, a US intelligence report found. The kingdom also routinely detains and tortures political dissidents.
LIV Golf is part of what critics call a Saudi “sportswashing” campaign, where the state uses its considerable oil profits to attract world-class athletes — such as golfers Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman, and soccer’s Cristiano Ronaldo — to participate in its events so that the world gains a, shall we say, more favorable view of the Saudis.
The human rights violations are not all that observers are worried about (though that would be enough, tbh).
American and European antitrust regulators are also piping up, Bloomberg reports, worried about the prospect of a massive for-profit entity forming in a sport that already lacks competition at a business level.
After a year of legal battles and public acrimony, my colleague Chris Isidore writes, competition for the best golfers between LIV, PGA and DP World Tour suddenly ended Tuesday.
Citing people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg said competition enforcers are likely to want to know how the tie-up will affect players, sponsorships and broadcast rights. It also said the US Justice Department, which has already been investigating PGA Tour over its dispute with LIV, will review the proposed deal, rather than the US Federal Trade Commission, which often handles sports disputes.
“The most predictable outcome of this merger, if it’s allowed to go through, is that less of the riches of golf will go to the players and more will go to the suits, including the Saudis,” writes Peter Coy in an essay for the New York Times. “That’s a classic monopolistic outcome.”